When embarking on a flight, passengers rightfully expect the highest standards of attention and diligence in safety measures, trusting that their well-being is of paramount importance. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the harrowing incident involving Alaska Airlines Flight 337, accidents resulting from negligence can have catastrophic consequences.
Passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight experienced a terrifying incident when a door plug blew out of the Boeing 737 Max 9 just minutes after takeoff. The fuselage’s side suffered a massive hole at 16,000 feet, causing cabin depressurization, flickering lights, and the deployment of oxygen masks. Fortunately, no one was directly next to the blown-out plug, and all 171 passengers and six crew members safely evacuated during an emergency landing. The force of decompression was so intense that it threw open the locked cockpit door, and items, including phones, were sucked out of the aircraft. The FAA indefinitely grounded 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 airliners globally for inspection after the incident. Per Reuters, “Only after 40 planes are inspected will the agency review the results and determine if safety is adequate to allow the MAX 9s to resume flying, the FAA said.”
(In case you were wondering, the door plug was found in the yard of a school teacher.)
What was the cause of the blowout?
The door plug blowout is suspected to be linked to a manufacturing issue with Boeing’s 737 Max 9 aircraft. The FAA mandates a specific number of emergency exits based on passenger capacity, and if an airline configures the 737 Max 9 with fewer than 200 seats, Boeing can remove a pair of exits, replacing them with door plugs. These plugs fill the fuselage holes where emergency exits would be, reducing complexity, lowering maintenance costs, and decreasing the aircraft’s weight. The door plug in question likely became dislodged due to loose bolts, with reports of similar issues found on other relatively new Boeing 737 Max 9 planes operated by Alaska Airlines and United Airlines. NBC News’ report also pointed out that, “an initial examination of the panel showed that it had signs of fractured guides and missing bolts — although it remains possible that fasteners were lost during the accident.”
The New York Times reports that the bolts to keep the plug in place may have never been installed in the first place. National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman, Jennifer Homendy, stated that “Alaska Airlines had been warned three times before the Friday flight about problems with cabin pressure on the plane. Those warnings were significant enough that the airline had decided the plane, a Max 9, could no longer be used on flights to Hawaii.”
Injuries caused by rapid decompression in planes
While no one was injured on flight 1282, it was a lucky break. When rapid, explosive, or uncontrolled decompression happens during a flight, it can cause serious injuries such as:
- Hypoxia. Hypoxia is oxygen deprivation. This can happen due to various reasons, including respiratory issues, cardiovascular problems, or environmental factors such as uncontrolled decompression. When oxygen levels drop below the necessary threshold, cells may not function optimally, leading to potential damage or dysfunction. There are different types of hypoxia, such as hypoxic hypoxia, where there is a lack of oxygen in the body overall, and localized hypoxia, which affects specific tissues or organs. Symptoms can range from mild, such as shortness of breath, to severe, potentially resulting in organ damage or failure if not addressed promptly. This is one of the reasons flights have oxygen masks that are meant to deploy from above the passenger seats during situations such as sudden decompression.
- Barotrauma. Barotrauma (also called decompression sickness or “the bends”) resulting from uncontrolled decompression during a flight occurs when there is a sudden drop in air pressure within the aircraft. This can lead to significant pressure differences between the inside and outside of the body, particularly affecting air-containing spaces like the ears, sinuses, and lungs. Passengers and crew may experience discomfort, pain, or injury as a result. Barotrauma can manifest in various forms, such as ear pain, sinus congestion, or more severe complications like pneumothorax (collapsed lung).
- Physical trauma. In the case of Flight 1282, when the door plug blew out, the sudden decompression likely meant that inside the aircraft, excessive wind speeds were blowing throughout. This often causes items and objects to loosen and fly inside the cabin. A strike from an object can leave the victim with physical injuries, from abrasions to traumatic brain injuries to traumatic amputation.
In the event of uncontrolled decompression on a plane, it’s crucial to remain calm and prioritize safety. Quickly secure your oxygen mask before assisting others, stay seated with your seatbelt fastened, and follow the instructions of the flight attendants. If evacuation becomes necessary, adhere to crew guidance, brace for impact if required, and stay low in the presence of smoke. Communication with the crew, reassurance of fellow passengers, and cooperation during emergency procedures are essential. Once on the ground, seek medical attention for any injuries and comply with emergency personnel instructions.
With our team of skilled Phoenix aviation accident attorneys, Plattner Verderame, P.C. possesses in-depth knowledge of the aviation industry, regulations, and the nuances of aircraft accident investigations. Our track record includes successful representation in diverse aviation accident cases, ranging from helicopter accidents to plane crashes. Recognizing the specialized nature of aviation law, we are well-acquainted with the complexities of both international and domestic regulations, liability issues, and the distinctive challenges associated with air travel. Our approach to aviation accident cases is comprehensive, involving collaboration with accident investigators, aviation experts, and medical professionals to construct the most robust case possible.
We also practice in products liability law, so when you are on a flight where the plane itself is defective, as seems to be the case in Flight 1282, we can offer you assistance with not only our knowledge and experience in aviation accidents, but also in products’ liability, ensuring that all parties in the accident are held liable for their part.
If you or your loved ones have been impacted by an aviation accident, you don’t have to navigate these intricate legal matters alone. Our experienced Phoenix aviation accident attorneys are dedicated to guiding you through the legal process, advocating for your rights, and ensuring you receive the justice and compensation you deserve. To schedule a free consultation to discuss your options, call us at our Phoenix or Tempe offices, or use our contact page.
I have been active in leadership in the Arizona Association for Justice (lawyers who represent injured folks, and formerly known as the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association) since 1985. I served as President in 1991. I was an active participant in battles to protect the Arizona Constitution from the insurance industry and big business interests in 1986, 1990 and 1994.
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